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Calendula officinalis is an annual herb bearing an edible orange or yellow daisy-like flower. Naturalized throughout most of the world, calendula flower is a cheerful ornamental plant employed by many herbalists for its beneficial properties. Calendula flowers can be infused in oils and incorporated into lotions, creams, and balms. They brighten herbal tea blends and make a tasty calendula tea infusion.
Calendula is a well-known herb and uplifting ornamental garden plant that has been used topically, ceremonially, and as a dye and food plant for centuries. It is also commonly referred to as marigold or pot marigold. Calendula is an annual herb bearing the characteristic daisy-like flowers of other members of the Asteraceae family, having bright orange or yellow terminal flower heads and pale green leaves. Native to Southern Europe, Egypt, the Mediterranean, and in the region spanning the Canary Islands to Iran, calendula is now naturalized in much of the world and is commonly grown in gardens.
The Genus Calendula contains about 20 different species of annual or perennial herbaceous plants and is native to the northern Mediterranean regions. The genus name is derived from the Latin word, “kalendae”, which means the first day of the month, probably referring to the fact that the flowers are in bloom at the start of most months in the year in their native regions. Although a common name of this plant is “Pot Marigold”, it is not related to the Tagetes or Marigold Genus.
Calendula is a herbaceous annual. Being a proud member of the Asteraceae (or sunflower) family, calendula has the distinct aster flower head consisting of slender petals, which are actually entire flowers in themselves, arranged like the rays of the sun around a center. Calendula grows to about 1 to 2 feet in height and has a reputation for being relatively easy to cultivate.
The best time to harvest flowers is in the summer, in the heat of the day when the resins are high and the dew has evaporated. Carefully dry flowers at low temperature in order to keep their vibrant color. Calendula grows best in zones 3 to 10. The herb is resistant to cold weather down to 25°F. It is a cool weather plant; it does not do well in the heat. It thrives in just about any soil, but prefers a happy medium when it comes to wet and dry.
The secret to prolonging its bloom is to pick the flowers every couple days. The more you pick, the more they grow. She’s is a tenacious and determined beauty, and even self-seeds prolifically.
In medieval Europe, calendula was widely available and was known as “poor man’s saffron” as it was used to color and spice various foods, soup in particular. It was used not only to color foods, but also as a dye to color hair and to make butter look more yellow. Believed to be first cultivated by St. Hildegard of Bingen, an herbalist and nun practicing herbalism in the 11th century in present day Germany, calendula is a mainstay in a variety of European historical herbal texts.
Nicholas Culpepper, a 17th century botanist, herbalist and astrologist, mentioned using calendula juice mixed with vinegar as a rinse for the skin and scalp and that a tea of the flowers comforts the heart. Astrologically associated with the sun and the fire element, calendula was believed to imbue magical powers of protection and clairvoyance, and even to assist in legal matters. Flowers strung above doorposts were said to keep evil out and to protect one while sleeping if put under the bed. It was said that picking the flowers under the noonday sun will strengthen and comfort the heart.
Brilliant golden orange Calendula flowers have been used as a food, coloring agent for fabric and food (cheese), and have graced statues of Hindu deities in temples. Calendula flower petals can be added as a flavoring to rice, grain dishes, salads and used as a replacement for Saffron.
There are many uses for Calendula, both topically and internally. The flower contains many different antioxidant groups including lutein, lycopene, beta-carotene, quercitin, rutin, and a host of others. One could see how the use of this flower in an extract or oil could benefit the skin, nervous system and mucous membranes in many ways.